46. Conclusion

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 46. Conclusion

Jn 12:32  “when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”

Rev 1:5   Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

How to put all these studies together? It is impossible in a relatively small space to cover every one of the studies of the past six weeks. All we can do is observe our starting point, our finishing point and the key parts in between.

Jesus our model for growth: Our starting point was our ultimate goal which was to consider the New Testament call to us to grow. Our framework for that was John 12:32 above and I suggested from the outset that there were expressions or outworkings of that verse: first, Jesus lifted up on the cross to die for our sins, second, Jesus lifted up from death by his resurrection and, third, Jesus exalted on high through the ascension, so he is now seated at his Father’s right hand, where his presently ruling.

Jesus’ model applied to us: That was the framework, and I suggested that this same framework can be observed in the Christian life – first, our call to die to the old life and to sin, then second, our call to live the resurrected, Spirit-empowered life, and finally, to realize and see that that we are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms where we are to rule with him, as the Spirit-led body of Christ on the earth, that is bringing in the kingdom or rule of God on the earth. Perhaps a few key items for each of those.

Death: Without death to the old life and to our old way of doing things and our old ambitions, we cannot come and receive Christ as both Saviour and Lord. Christ cannot bring his salvation to us and cannot lead us in a new life if we insist on holding onto the things of our old carnal life.

Resurrection: Without death there can never be resurrection.   Resurrection is the shorthand picture of what takes place when we come to Christ. When we are ‘born again’ it is a work of the Holy Spirit who God places within and so the Spirit becomes an inner source of revelation (teaching) and power (for life transformation and service).  All the virtues and all the gifts and fruits of the Spirit find their origin and expression in Him.

Ascension: This is the area that many of us struggle with most. It is first of all seeing ourselves seated with Christ in heaven, linked by his Holy Spirit, second, it is understanding that now he is there ruling over the affairs of the world, even in the midst of his enemies who will eventually be destroyed, enemies that are all things contrary to the way God originally created this world perfect, and third, it is seeing ourselves as now his body on the earth, directed by him from heaven, led and empowered by his Spirit on a daily basis and, finally, fourth it is understanding that his body now, as two thousand years ago, is to work to bring the kingdom or rule of God on the earth.

It is the enormity of this third phase that leaves many of us struggling and is, perhaps, the most difficult area for growth. Perhaps there are various reasons for that. First, it is a spiritual experience that is expressed into the physical world. We are all right with the spiritual bit (e.g. simple prayer) but when that is extended to hearing God and responding to His directions that mean us stepping out in the physical world to bring physical changes, our faith wavers.

Second, we have settled in the past in the good, but only partial, teaching that the spiritual parts of being a Christian are just about being a witness, sharing the Gospel with friends, family etc. etc. Now that is good and right, but it stops short of Jesus call that said, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) and his explanation of those works is seen in Matt 11:5 and Lk 4:18,19. The other ‘spiritual’ aspect that we have watered down is in respect of prayer which is so often simply reduced to telling God what He ought to do and uttering words into the air, instead of it being a life-filled experience where there is a two-way communication. It is the so-often absent ‘hearing element’ of prayer that releases faith for action.

And So: So there we are, death, resurrection and ascended to a place of ruling, that is our syllabus or our learning program, a program that is not merely about learning words but putting them into action (Mt 28:20). To conclude, note our second starter verse from above: “Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” (Rev 1:5) There again we have the three phases of the life and ministry of the Son of God.

First, he was a faithful witness, sharing in all the Father was doing (Jn 5:17,19), perfectly fulfilling the plan of the Godhead, formulated before the beginning of time and resulting in his death on a cross for the sins of mankind. Second, he is the firstborn from the dead, having been raised to life after death. Third, he is now the ruler of all the earth, seated at his Father’s right hand, working slowly and purposefully in the midst of his enemies on the earth to bring the rule of God which will be culminated in his Second Coming. Oh yes, there is very much yet a future element to all this, as there is for us. That says to us that we are working towards a guaranteed future when, if we learn these things, we will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” while at the same time being welcomed home as the sons and daughters, the children of God, that we are.  Hallelujah and Amen!

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27. When Jesus Returns

Meditations in 1 John : 27 : When Jesus Comes

1 John  2:28   And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.

John has, in this letter, been encouraging the church to stand firm in the truth, obeying God’s commands, expressing God’s love, resisting the spirit of the world and the distorted ‘truths’ of those who have left the truth and formed their own doctrines that were different from the apostles’ teaching. Above all he has been encouraging them to stand firm in their relationship with the Lord, fellowshipping with the Father and the Son. The Christian faith is to be a mix of responding to the will of God as revealed in His word, and responding to His will, as the Holy Spirit prompts, energises and guides and teaches us. This latter element comes out of the fellowship with have with the indwelling Spirit, the presence of God within us.

Now it is that John gives us another reason to hang on in there, resisting the world, sin and the enemy. We will never know when Jesus is coming back but we must always be ready for it. Let’s just focus on his Second Coming for a moment.

In his general teaching Jesus told a parable about the owner of a vineyard who went away, had dealings from a distance with the tenants he left in charge of the vineyard, but then eventually returned (see Mt 21:33-41) But he also taught more specifically about it: as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man,” (Mt 24:27) and “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory,” (Mt 24:30) and When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.” (Mt 25:31)  The same thing was stated very explicitly by the two angels when Jesus ascended: “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)

It was also taught by the early church, for example, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God,” (1 Thess 4:16) which is in the context of Jesus’ words about his coming again. In his second letter he also wrote, “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come.” (2 Thess 2:1,2)

So John is speaking into familiar teaching: Jesus will come back – so when he does, ensure you live in the way I have been speaking about “so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him.”  It is very similar teaching to that of Jesus when he said on one occasion, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8)  Living in this fallen world is often confusing. Things happen and we wonder why. Things go wrong, people get ill, have accidents, even die and we wonder why. Injustice occurs and we wonder where God is.  People come with strange teaching and confusion hangs in the air. The fact of the matter is that God is working in His world all the time but often it is not possible for us, it seems, to discern what He is doing. Do you remember Jesus said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day,” (Jn 5:17) and of course the apostle Paul wrote, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,” (Rom 8:28) which suggests that the Lord is always working on our behalf. But the truth is that we may not be able to see what He seems to be doing in our circumstances sometimes. So all around us things happen which often involve us, and the big question always is, how will I respond to this?  If Jesus returned in the middle of these trying circumstances, how would he find us acting? Will he find us holding on in faith, refusing to give way and live like the rest of the world, grumbling and being all out for self, or will he find us doing the things the Spirit has been leading us to do?

I’m not sure if it is a good illustration but it comes to mind in this context. One of the funniest examples of being caught out by Jesus when he turns up occurs in John 21 when the disciples had been told by Jesus to go to Galileeand wait for him there. So they go and they wait … and wait… until eventually impatient Peter says, “I’m going out to fish.” (Jn 21:3) Some of the others join him and they spend the night catching nothing. Come the morning Jesus appears on the shore and tells then to throw the net out on the other side and they catch a great haul. When they get to the shore they find that Jesus has already made a fire and he’s already cooking fish!!!  Jesus calmly instructs them to pull their catch in and come and eat and it is not until after the meal that he helps Peter confront his recent past.

What I like about that illustration is that he didn’t chide them for their impatience but instead he blessed them with a big catch and then fed them. Will Jesus find me doing my own fishing – or his fishing, when he returns? I hope it will be doing his works but I’m sufficiently aware of my own shortcomings that I have to say that I know it will need to be with his grace. May we be “confident and unashamed” when he returns!

21. Anti-Christs?

Meditations in 1 John : 21 : Antichrists?

1 John  2:18    Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.

It is important for our understanding to try and grasp the flow of thought of a writer like John. Earlier on in this chapter he had spoken of light and darkness (2:9-11) when he had been speaking about behaviour. He then made it personal by addressing three specific groups of Christians, the last being young men (v.12-14). Now whether he has young men in mind or speaks to the wider congregation, he warns about loving the things the unregenerate world love (v.15-17), and about not being like them. It is in this context – as he looks outwards to the surrounding world – that he now speaks about antichrists.

If you are anti something you are against it, so let’s simply note that ‘anti-Christs’ are people who are not for Christ but actually against him. It is that simple. So what is he saying about those people?

He starts out by warning us that “this is the last hour.” Scripture is quite clear that “the last days” is an expression used to describe the period between Christ’s first coming and his Second Coming. The apostle Peter, under the anointing of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, took and applied the prophecy from Joel 2:28-32 and applied it to the present day (Acts 2:17-21).

Having established the time frame, John points out teaching that was obviously well known in the early church, that in the very last days, there would come one who would be very obviously anti-God, anti-Christ.  Jesus himself had taught, Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, `I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many,” (Mt 24:4,5) and “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect–if that were possible.” (v.24)

Daniel had had a vision in which four beasts had arisen (Dan 7:3) which represented four earthly kingdoms (7:17). The last of the four will be greater than the others and will oppress the whole earth (7:7) yet even he will be swept away before the coming of the Son of Man (7:11-14) but not before it devours the whole earth (7:23), even oppressing the saints (7:25).

The apostle Paul also spoke of this being: “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” (2 Thess 2:3,4) In the book of Revelation this being is referred to as The Beast (Rev 13).

However, whereas that appears to refer to a specific single figure who appears prior to Christ’s return, we live in an era where even as there is the kingdom of God expressed, so also there are those who rise up in deception who are against Christ and against his kingdom, antichrists, and there were and may be many of these. Jesus had spoken of “false Christs and false prophets” i.e. plural! Thus John was already able to say, “false Christs have come.”  The history of the first century of the church was full of heretics, those who had veered away from the truth, who had perhaps started well in the Christian faith and in the Church, but who launched out with strange variants of the truth that had been handed down by the apostles, which is why John wrote, “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us.” (v.19a)

They had started off in the church as believers but they had eventually gone and were now in opposition to the church and so John declares that to be able to do this, “they did not really belong to us.” The reinforce this he adds, “For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” (v.19b)  These men who had deserted the Church showed in their going that they were not wholly and genuinely part of it because if they had been, then they would have held to the doctrines laid down by the apostles and not tried to distort and change what the apostles taught.

We need to be clear in our minds about these things. Those who disagree with the way a particular brand of church runs, are not heretics. A heretic is one who distorts the fundamental teaching of the New Testament and puts forth ‘another Jesus’ or ‘another God’ who is different from that revealed in the accepted text of the New Testament. Likewise we may challenge indifference and apathy in church life and not be a heretic. Heretics are all about distorting doctrine which is different from challenging practice. These people that John spoke about left the church because they disagreed with fundamental doctrines about Christ and about salvation. Our call is to remain true to the truths that we find in our Bibles and especially, as Christians, in the New Testament.

7. His Return

Meditations in Acts : 7 :  His Return

Acts 1:10,11 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

If we have been Christians a long time, it is probable that at some time or other we have heard a sermon on Jesus’ return or ‘Second Coming’ and therefore it is possible that, yet again, we lose the mystique of these verses. They say something remarkable, something that would leave future generations of Christians wondering.

We noted previously that the disciples were standing there, awe-struck by what they were witnessing. The one they have followed for three years, the man they have travelled with, the one they have seen as very much a man, yes, the man who died and came back, this man now simply rises up in their presence and vanishes in a cloud.  Was it a high cloud?  Did it take a while?  Was it s low cloud so he vanished quickly?  These are all valid questions when you are talking about something that happened in time-space history in this material world.  Valid they may be, but we have no answers because Luke doesn’t tell us.  He doesn’t want us to get bogged down in details; he’s got a lot more to tell us in this book.

But then something else happens. One minute they were there, out in the open with Jesus, alone, and the next moment there are two men dressed in white standing next to them.  We aren’t told how they came and we aren’t told how they went. We assume they were angelic messengers. Why there were two of them and not just one, we aren’t told. The Bible often leaves us with lots of questions, but it gives us just enough on which faith can be built. What is important is not so much how they arrived or went or who they were, but the message they conveyed which is amazing.

This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven. i.e. he is coming back again one day! That is the first incredible thing. God’s plan involves his Son leaving heaven again and coming back to earth sometime in the future.  The second incredible thing is that when he does come, he won’t be arriving in the same way, being born on the earth again; he is going to come in the same visible way that he has just left.  No, that allows no space for any would-be pretenders to come and masquerade as him. There is NO ROOM for false Christ’s, men pretending to be him or manifestations of him. No, when he returns it will be visibly from the sky. No, as incredible as this may seem, we must suggest that it is for the same reasons that we gave when we considered why he had left in this manner. First so that he is clearly seen, second he is seen as coming from outside of the earth’s environment, and third that he is seen to bring an end to the present era.

Now a third amazing thing about the words of the angels is that they don’t tell us WHY he will return, simply the manner of his return. In the book of Revelation, the apostle John has a vision in which he sees Jesus returning as a conquering king, coming to bring judgment on the earth (Rev 19:11-18) in order to bring a new earth (Rev 21:1). When Jesus returns it will be for judgment of the whole earth.  Again this leaves no room for false Christ’s who come with mere words.

There is yet a fourth amazing thing about the words of the angels: they don’t tell us WHEN this will happen. Now both these last two things are amazing because you might expect God to make it quite clear why and when Jesus is returning. The absence of a time has meant that Christians throughout the ages have expected Jesus to come at any moment. The early church expected it and the church through the last two thousand years has expected it. The best that we can say is that the list of ‘signs’ that we can expect to see before he returns, as spelt out in the Gospels, seem more visible today than at any previous time of history. But that is the best we can say. It may be tomorrow or it may be twenty years time or two thousand years time. God knows and He simply tells the church in every age to be ready.

So here we have this amazing proclamation to the disciples as they stand there wondering just after Jesus has vanished. Did they fully take it in? Probably not. Probably they would discuss it again and again in the years to come but, as we’ve just seen, it is sufficiently open ended that no firm declarations can be made. As we noted above, the best we can do is make sure we are in a good place before God so that if Jesus returns, we’ll have nothing to be ashamed about! May it be so!

20. N.T. Testimony

SON OF GOD MEDITATIONS 20 of 20

Heb 1:1-3 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

The writer to the Hebrews in the New Testament is quite specific; in fact unusually so.  In his first chapter he seeks to show how Jesus was so much greater than an angel. He writes to the Jewish population explaining how Jesus is the fulfilment of the Law, how he is so much greater that a mere heavenly messenger.  What is interesting is that he starts by countering a claim that Jesus, although greater than a man, was in fact  an angelic messenger.  Already there were strange cults suggesting strange things. There are glimmerings throughout the New Testament of the writers having to counter the heretical ramblings of some of the cults that were trying to take over Christianity, yet it would be several hundred years before the battle got really heated and the Church would have to try to lay down creeds of agreed doctrine to counter the heresies that the various cults were trying to impose.

We have made reference a number of times to the apostle John, and his letters show equal commitment to the Gospel as his Gospel does. His first letter in particular is littered with references to the Son of God and no where does he equate him with a mere man, a mere prophet or a mere teacher. For John he is the unique Son of God.

When we come to the letters of the apostle Peter we find that he too is utterly committed to the concept of Jesus Christ being the unique Son of God. In fact he confirms what we have already seen in the Gospels: “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.” (2 Pet 1:16,17). His language gives only the foolhardy the grounds to suppose that Jesus is anything but the unique Son of God and that is his point in referring to that occasion on the mount of transfiguration.

Probably the most prolific writer outside the Gospels is the apostle Paul. Often in his writings there are almost side comments, for example: “They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead–Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.” (1 Thess 1:9,10). His comments about who Jesus is are not the main points he was speaking about at that point in his letter to the church at Thessalonica, but almost without thinking he elevates Jesus who he identifies as God’s Son and who is in heaven awaiting a time when he will return in glory, a subject which occurs elsewhere in his writings. The so-called ‘Second Coming’ of Jesus Christ is a clearly taught doctrine in the New Testament, but it is not the coming of a mere man a second time but of a conquering king who will be seen by every eye on the earth at the same time. This doctrine in itself elevates Jesus Christ above every other human being who has ever and will ever exist. He is revealed as The glorious one. There is no other like him! He is unique.

But Paul doesn’t only make oblique references to Jesus as God’s Son.  Perhaps one of the clearest descriptions of Jesus as described by Paul is the following: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Col 1:15-20)

The early writers, who were accepted into the canon of Scripture after exhaustive considerations, were quite clear in their own minds that Jesus Christ was the unique Son of God.  It was only as cults rose up declaring heresies, things contrary to the teaching of the apostles of Jesus, that that church had to work on detailing this.  It is worth repeating what we said in an earlier meditation.

In later years the early church would struggle over what this really meant. Was Jesus just a son in the sense of being a very holy man given over to God or was he God in the flesh?   It was such a big issue that they struggled with it, even though Scripture was quite clear. It was to challenge those who denied his deity that the early church formulated what we call the Creeds.

The Apostles Creed, one of the earliest of creeds simply referred to “Christ Jesus, his only Son.” For them he was unique. Later the Nicene Creed declared, “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father,” which was full of the language of oneness in deity. If you look up the Athanasian Creed, an even later creed, you find this spelled out in even greater detail.

The early Church Fathers were sure in their minds that Scripture spoke of a divine Son of God, and in this they bear out the testimony of the apostles. It is only the ignorant, or those who have another agenda to follow, who refuse to see what any intelligent, open-minded person will see, that all the evidence is piled up revealing Jesus Christ as the unique Son of God, who came from heaven, was killed, was raised from the dead, and has returned to heaven, to await a glorious return.  All this was to express God’s love for us and to open up a way for us to come into a relationship with Him that is not built on fear but on love. That is the wonder of the Gospel or Good News of Jesus Christ, the unique Son of God who came to earth for us.